The Trump poll number limbo

This music …

… opens Greg Sargent‘s report:

Donald Trump’s slide in the national polls is becoming so obvious that even he may not be able to deny it for much longer. Or will he?

Politico’s Steven Shepard has a good analysis of all the recent polling that makes two basic points. First, the polls now “unanimously” show that Hillary Clinton is building a real lead over Trump. And second, a look at all the recent polls showing him upside down — which are detailed at length in the piece — reveals that Trump’s personal unfavorable numbers are not just bad. They are actually “setting modern records for political toxicity.”

But there are two additional key points. First, note the intensity of dislike of Trump:

It’s not just the overall unfavorable numbers — it’s the intensity of the antipathy toward Trump, and the lack of enthusiasm for him. In the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 56 percent of respondents had a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of Trump, compared to just 15 percent who had a “strongly favorable” opinion. In the Bloomberg poll, 51 percent had a “very unfavorable” opinion of Trump, with only 11 percent having a “very favorable” opinion.

And the second key point is that, while Hillary Clinton is also disliked, there is just no comparison to Trump:

Clinton’s image ratings are also “upside-down” — but compared with Trump, she’s more than likable enough. The ABC News/Washington Post poll pegs her favorable rating at 43 percent (25 percent strongly favorable), with 55 percent viewing her unfavorably (39 percent strongly unfavorable).

Crucially, note that in the WaPo and Bloomberg polls, a majority of Americans has a strongly unfavorable view of Trump. But the WaPo poll shows only a minority of 39 percent has a strongly unfavorable view of Clinton. That’s true of the Bloomberg poll, too, in which 40 percent view her very unfavorably.

This is another way in which there is simply no equivalence in how disliked Trump and Clinton are, which cuts against one of the punditry’s cherished narratives, i.e., that gosh, it’s just so awful that the parties are foisting two deeply hated candidates on the poor voters!

One is strongly disliked by a majority of Americans (at least in those two polls), and the other isn’t. That’s a key distinction: It suggests that Trump could be inspiring a level of mainstream antipathy and even revulsion that could prove harder to turn around than the less intense dislike Clinton is eliciting.

Yet all indications are that Trump is still so caught up in the glow of his GOP primary victories that he may not even be capable of acknowledging what’s happening right now. In a key tell, Morning Joe aired some footage of Trump at a rally in Dallas last night, in which he launched a lengthy soliloquy about how the polls had underestimated his strength in the primaries. At one point, he said this about those polls:

“When I run, I do much better. In other words, people say, ‘I’m not gonna say who I’m voting for’ — don’t be embarrassed — ‘I’m not gonna say who I’m voting for,’ and then they get in, and I do much better. It’s like an amazing effect.”

It would not be surprising if Trump is telling himself something similar about the general election polling, if, that is, he even takes it seriously enough to bother thinking about it at all.

Sargent must be correct on that last point given that Trump tweeted a poll that shows him … losing to Hillary.

The polls are further evidence that primary voters for Trump really weren’t particularly committed to Trump, and that they voted for Trump as the easiest Republican candidate for Hillary Clinton to beat in November. It’s like Democrats were voting in Republican primaries for Trump (even changing their voter registration in states with closed primaries).

But Trump’s poll numbers are far from Trump’s only numbers problem. Philip Bump has the other bad news for The Donald:

Supporters of Donald Trump got an unexpected plea on Saturday: a request to send the billionaire money.

It was an “emergency” request, the Hill reported, representing an urgent need for an infusion of $100,000 to put ads on the air in battleground states. Why Trump couldn’t simply write a check to cover the costs apparently wasn’t explained, but the missive was useful regardless: It demonstrates clearly the difficult position of the Trump campaign with only 142 days to go. …

“[T]here’s no way to look at Trump’s national polling that avoids the grim reality that he is at a lower ebb than any general election candidate has hit in the last three elections,” the National Review’s Dan McLaughlin wrote last week.

Not only are Trump’s poll numbers slipping, they are at a low that no one, Republican or Democrat, has seen in the past three election cycles. Looking at the window of time between 200 and 100 days before each of those elections, you can see that Trump has consistently polled worse than George W. Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. He caught up briefly after clinching the GOP nomination — and then sank again.

The margin by which he trails Hillary Clinton now mirrors McCain’s deficit to Barack Obama in 2008. McCain rebounded after the Republican convention — but it’s important to remember that we’re comparing Trump to the worst Republican performance in a general election since 1996.

There’s every reason to think that those numbers will get worse. Trump essentially has no campaign at this point; there’s no sign that he has started staffing up significantly. We looked this month at how his staffing compared with the two final Democratic candidates. His campaign was never a traditional, national effort.

He has indicated that he doesn’t plan to increase staff, either. On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Trump intended, in effect, to outsource his campaign to the Republican Party. As of right now, “the campaign estimates it currently has about 30 paid staff on the ground across the country,” according to the report.

On Sunday morning, NBC News’s Mark Murray shared numbers on ad spending by Trump and Clinton. In June 2012, the Romney campaign and PACs supporting it spent about $38 million on ads in battleground states — a bit behind the $44.6 million spent by Obama and his allies.

This June? Trump is getting skunked.

In their look at the 2012 election, our John Sides and UCLA’s Lynn Vavreck found that ads made a difference in the race when the balance was lopsided, as it is now. They also found that the presence of staff on the ground made a slight difference in the margin for a candidate in that region. (Without his field operation, they estimate, Obama probably would have lost Florida.) It’s very early; Sides and Vavreck also found that ads right before the election made the biggest difference.

The current gap in ad spending exists because Trump can’t or won’t spend money on ads, just as he can’t or won’t spend money on staff. He will probably trail Clinton in fundraising even if he were to focus on it, and he has said in the past that he didn’t need to spend because he got so much free media.

In essence, Trump is running a real-time experiment in a new form of presidential campaigning. And the early numbers suggest that the experiment is shaping up to be a failure.

On Monday, Trump fired his campaign manager, which is tantamount to firing the captain of the Titanic as it’s sinking, or a baseball team owner firing his manager with his team 30 games behind first place.



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